TEHRAN, Iran—The mothers of three Americans jailed in Iran for 10 months left for home Friday, getting one last chance to embrace their children but failing to secure their immediate release.
In a glimmer of hope, Iran announced that two of its nationals held in Iraq by U.S. forces for years were freed Friday. The release raised the possibility that a behind-the-scenes swap was in the offing or that their release was a gesture of goodwill in an attempt to free the Americans.
The Iranians’ release “may have some diplomatic effect on this case,” the Americans’ lawyer, Masoud Shafii, told The Associated Press.
The U.S. has said it is not offering a direct swap, and Iranian officials made no public connection between
the freed Iranians and the Americans.
Sarah Shourd, 31, her boyfriend Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, were arrested in July along the Iran-Iraq border, and Iran has accused them of espionage. Their families say the three were simply hiking in Iraq’s largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.
But their detention has become entangled in the confrontation between the United States and Iran. Iranian leaders have repeatedly suggested a link between their jailing and that of a number of Iranians by the United States whose release Tehran demands. Further increasing tensions, the U.S. announced before the mothers’ arrival in Tehran that it had support from other major powers for a new set of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
The mothers—Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal—had hoped to at least make a face-to-face appeal for their children’s release to Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.